Review of the online talk given by Johnny Haslett on Saturday 15th May 2021, to an audience of over 45 people. Johnny is a former member of Leyland Morris Men and former leader of Preston Royal Morris Men (now Royal Preston Morris Dancers)
Peter Bearon and Alison Whitaker write:
“Those of you who are familiar with Johnny’s three books will know the amount of work he has put into producing them. Johnny has spent years trawling through old newspapers in various archives and libraries around the North West finding every conceivable mention of Morris Dancers and related activities, mainly in the Lancashire Plain. These have been collated into three large books to date, with a fourth on its way. This talk looked at Volume One which covers dancing in West Lancashire up to 1900.
“You might think that with much easier access to old newspapers on the internet, such a book is no longer necessary. This would be a mistake. Firstly, many papers have yet to be digitised and secondly, the great value in Johnny’s book is that by having all the reports listed chronologically, some idea of the context of the explosion of Morris dancing during the 1890s can be gleaned.
“In his talk Johnny went through various newspaper reports from the first volume, but instead of listing them chronologically, he showed the development of the dance by place and how what started in one town affected events in nearby settlements. This was a whistle-stop tour and despite showing 141 slides, mostly newspaper reports interspersed with a few old photographs, he could only present a small portion of what is contained within the book. If I have one very minor criticism, it would be that there wasn’t always enough time to read the report on each slide. However, you can overcome this problem by catching up on the talk on YouTube (when it is available) and using the pause button.
“The talk began with a couple of pre-1890 references – Abram in 1880, children from the Churchtown National Schools near Southport in 1887 and a resolution to employ The Oldham Morris Dancers and their band for a forthcoming fete in Southport in 1888.
“However, it was not until 1890 that Morris dancing became an entrenched part of local festivities and processions. Johnny took us through the development of the dance in Leyland, which started with a deputation from Leyland going to Knutsford on May Day 1890 to obtain information about the Morris Dancers. By the end of that month Leyland had about a score of Morris Dancers at their May Festival. The group continued throughout the 1890s with a couple of trainers and an additional group of juvenile dancers with a different trainer appearing in the mid-1890s.
“Chorley was next up. The Rose Festival started in June 1890 with assistance from their Leyland friends and the engagement of Leyland Morris Dancers. By the following year Chorley had its own team of 29 dancers under the leadership of Mr H Gent. From Chorley, Johnny moved on to Horwich in 1891 where the Rose Queen procession was denounced by the local corps of the Salvation Army as the ‘work of the devil’. In July 1891 Chorley Morris Dancers appeared, but also mentioned is a juvenile Morris team at the Juvenile Rose Queen a month later. By the following year the Rose Queen Festival had its own home-grown team – the newspaper proclaimed that Horwich did not need to seek foreign aid to provide Morris Dancers.
“The talk continued in this vein, showing how the dance developed in different towns, how trainers moved from one town’s team to another and, equally important, the type of events they danced at. It was not only May Day and Rose Festivals, but also Lifeboat Saturdays, Trade Processions, Club Days and Field Days. Perhaps surprising is the distances that some teams covered to reach their engagements – Preston Morris Dancers visited Glasgow for a Lifeboat Saturday in 1896.
“Finally, in the chat after the recording had finished, I think Derek Schofield nailed it when he said that Johnny’s work shows that Morris Dancing in the 1890s was ‘popular culture’.
“All in all, a very informative talk, that only scratches the surface of the newspaper reports in Volume One. I look forward to hearing his talk on Volume Two, 1900 to 1909!
Participants were encouraged to donate to a ring-fenced fund in the Morris Federation to be put towards a suitable project about North West Morris dancing.
Buying a Book
Copies of Johnny’s Haslett’s books Volumes 1 to 4 may be purchased direct from him (find him on Facebook, or contact us to be put in touch). Volume 1 covers 1896-1900, Volume 2 1900-1909, Volume 3 1910-1919, and Volume 4 1920-1929.